Tag Archives: autism

On Making Autism Visible to Strangers

labelling autistic child in a crowd

For parents, one of the biggest hurdles they face raising a child with autism is the fact that it is a hidden disability. It may not be concealed behind a wall, or in disguise, but there are no trademark physical attributes that would signal public to their disability. As a result, misunderstanding in the form of aggressive criticism is an unfortunate reality parents have to deal with.

Farida Peters of Toronto, Canada is one of those parents. Every weekday, she takes her 5-year-old son Deckard on a seventeen stop subway ride that can last up to an hour so that he can get to his behavioral therapy on time.  Anyone acquainted with autism spectrum disorder knows that such rides can be a nightmare as they involve so many alterations dependent on the day: something Deckard simply cannot deal with.

In the past, he would throw tantrums during their ride when he couldn’t find a seat or didn’t have room to stand. The smallest thing could set him into a tailspin of screeching and stimming as he encountered boundless anxiety in the form of changes in their routine commute. To the uninformed eye, he was simply the petulant child to an overindulgent mother. After months of harsh words and exasperated encounters, Farida came up with a solution to alert her fellow commuters to what was actually going on.

Recently, Farida began clipping a laminated sign to her backpack that states: “My son is 5 years old and has autism. Please be patient with us. Thank you.” Though she’s met criticism for publicly labeling her child, Farida defends herself, saying “Honestly, I don’t always have time to apologize to everyone when I’m in crisis mode. I try to, but I have a kid who needs a lot of support.”

Despite some admonishments from close friends, the sign has improved Farida and Deckard’s commute drastically. Behavior that would once provoke an angry sigh or glare from a stranger now results in a reassuring hand on Farida’s back, and people asking how best they can accommodate her son.

The encouragement and support has comforted Farida immensely during times of duress; however, it’s proven even better for Deckard. Of course, his anxiety is now alleviated by the kindness of strangers; however, even better is the fact that people now engage him in positive conversation. Someone may see the sign and compliment him on his shirt or good behavior; others may simply offer a smile or a silly face. Regardless of the form the kindness comes in, it’s reinforced Deckard’s good behavior.

There’s an African proverb that claims that: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For Farida and her husband, the encouragement and kindness they’ve received as a result of her sign couldn’t prove this better.

Sara Power, Fordham University

Book Reaches Out to Parents Struggling with Child Disabilites


mental disorders and autism

For any parent of a special needs child, he or she is well aware of the challenges that crop up on a constant basis. A mother of four children with mental disabilities has now written a book to help parents cope with that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to turn.

Ann Douglas’ book “Parenting Through the Storm,” reaches out to gather a large variety of perspectives. Over 50 parents of children with mental health challenges were interviewed, as well as mental health professionals. Their stories carry a message of hope for parents and provides advice on how to cope with mental disorders and illnesses.

The author’s own story has been a tumultuous one. Her daughter has battled depression and bulimia, and all three of her sons were diagnosed with ADHD. Her two youngest sons struggled in school with writing-based disorders, and her youngest son Ian has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder.

She mentions in the book how the genetic variations that are linked to ASD often result in other mental disabilities within a sibling, like bipolar disorder. This is why it can sometimes feel like mental challenges are “stacked up” within a single family.

Douglas herself has fought against the current and suffered through mental health issues as a result of her childrens’ difficulties. She battled clinical depression for about three years. The author makes a point in her book to emphasize caring for onesself for her readers. In order to provide the best life for your children, you must make your own health a priority.

“You find yourself in the situation and you have no choice but to cope because the kids are counting on you to cope,” Douglas said in an interview with Brandon Sun.

Work Opportunities Blossom Under ‘Roses for Autism’

roses for autism


On Pencheck farms, the greenhouses are set to a summery 80 degrees while the busy employees get to work, harvesting flowers for Valentine’s Day.

February 14th is the day that flower companies receive their biggest business all year. Currently, workers who are part of the Roses for Autism program are helping prepare the flowers for harvest, which includes pushing them to “flush,” or bloom.

Tom Pincheck used to own the largest rose grower in the New England area. He was forced to shrink his operations after competition from South America slashed the market price that roses sold for. Pinchek farms could not compete with the ideal climate and rock-bottom flower prices, so he shut down wholesale operations in 2008 after 79 years of operation.

The rose grower was then approached by a college friend, Jim Lyman. Jim was the owner of the Lyman Orchards Dynasty and also had a son with autism. He prosed to Pinchek to use his rose farm to open up a vocational program for children with autism. The organization Ability Beyond Disability loved the idea, so it was set into motion.

Pinchek describes Roses for Autism as a “new incarnation” of his previous business. Twenty five full time and part time employees work here, where they are given the tools necessary to engage in meaningful employment. In addition, Roses for Autism also includes an internship program, where hundreds of students are involved each year.

Their activities on a given day include cashiering, shipping and inventory, and working in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a peaceful space for many, as working with plants and flowers has proved to be a therapeutic activity for adults and children on the spectrum.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone is part of a team. This involves learning effective teamwork and social skills. The roses are not only special for those who receive them, according to Pinchek, but also for those who grow and care for them.

In the greenhouses, Pinchek and his employees and interns are cranking up temperatures, pushing the roses to flush before Valentine’s Day. All roses grown in the greenhouse are descendants of the same varieties that were cultivated in 1929. The most popular rich red variety is known as “Forever Yours.” In the muggy 80 degree greenhouse dripping with vapor, members of Roses for Autism are all working together to make sure these special red roses bloom just in time.

Prep Distance Runner is a Top Contender Despite Having Autism

Mikey Brannigan Runner with Autism

Mikey Brannigan has his sights set on the finish line, and nothing is about to get in his way.

The 18 year old prep distance runner is one of the top in the nation, and the teen powerhouse owes his success to a running group he joined at age 9. Brannigan has autism, and the Long Island native found his inspiration in the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program.

Grannigan’s mentors and supporters are impressed by his dedication. Many who have observed him running remark on his passion when it comes to the sport. One of his biggest supporters is his father Kevin.

“When Mikey is out there running, he’s just like every other kid,” Kevin Brannigan told the NY Daily News. “He’s accepted for who he is.”

Another one of the young athlete’s biggest fans is Dr. Norbert Sander, CEO of the Armory Track and Field Center in Long Island (which happens to the busiest indoor track complex in the nation) is excited to watch Brannigan train and improve each day.

“What a story this young man is,” says Dr. Norbert Sander. “What a story.”

Brannigan is a force to be reckoned with on the track. He is one of the best prep distance runners in the united states. Diagnosed before age 2 with autism spectrum disorder, Brannigan lost all his speech abilities by age 4. Once he joined the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Running Program a few years later, he was equipped with the focus and drive necessary to compete in an elite class of runners.

He quickly became an athletic phenomenon in his community, finishing 22nd out of 5,500 runners when competing in his first 10k at 12 years old. Last year, Brannigan snagged the New York State Federation cross-country title. This came just a few months after he had won the New Balance two-mile national championship, clocking in at 8:53:59.

The high school senior has received interest from Stanford, Oregon, North Carolina, and a number of other colleges. College has long been a dream of his, though at the moment he is unsure about the direction he will take.

Right now, Brannigan is at a crucial point in his running career and the next few months could shape his future in a big way. His coach Jason Strom has been behind him the whole way and is constantly impressed by his unfettered attitude on the track.

“Regardless of where you stand intellectually, everybody can achieve greatness if you find what you want and get after it,” Strom says. “The word autism doesn’t mean that you can’t excel — that you can’t be at the highest level of your sport — because that is (exactly what he has done).”

Compliments to Complementary Therapy for ASD

autism alternative treatment

One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with ASD is that there is no one solution.

In order to properly care and provide for persons with this disorder, treatment must be given in a multi-faceted manner. Therapists such as the renowned Steven Rudelhoff recognize just how important this is.

This past week, Rudelhoff received a Highly Commended award in the category of Best Complementary Medicine Practitioner. This award is in conjunction with the Institute of Complementary Natural Medicine Awards, held in London England. The reason? His amazing work with integrating aromatherapy massage, sound healing, and energy healing.

Alternative medical treatments are readily available, but the science behind such healing is hotly debated. Though such treatments spark a lot of controversy regarding whether or not they truly address the symptoms of ASD, Rudelhoff is confident that he is making a difference.

“Both caregivers and parents have seen big improvements in the behavioral patterns of my clients,” he said in an interview. “They have become calmer in general and when they need to release stress, it is released more gently. They have become more balanced in every part of their lives and are happier within themselves.”

Clearly, the Institute of Complementary Natural Medicine agrees. To find out more about Rudelhoff’s work, you can check out his website at www.reikiwithrudelhoff.com where you will find his contact info.


Sara Power, Fordham University

Autistic Teens Start with Gumball Machines to Learn Business Management

autism gumball machine business

While you are out and about in your local mall or your local doctors office, you may see a gumball machine.

Simply put in a quarter, turn the knob, and a gumball drops out of the chute. Something you may have not known is that those simple gumball machines sometimes provide benefits to people, even jobs. In this case, four young teenagers by the name of Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun have begun lessons in entrepreneurship through these little candy machines.

These young men also happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but they aren’t letting that stop them from learning to become successful like anyone else. Easter Seals, which is a service that reaches out to all people of different disabilities including autism and more, has created a program called “Bubble 2 Work”. Their job is to maintain, re-fill, and collect money from the machines. With that, the seeds are planted and the boys begin to understand how to run a business.

Kelly Anne Ohde of Easter Seals has stated that it’s an opportunity for them to gain real world experience for them.

Gumball machines are located in 17 south suburban establishments in Illinois where people interact with others, including customers and even a state senator, Senator Michael Hastings. Hastings describes that the four teens are “great kids.”

“We traded movie quotes, what’s going on and what it’s like to be a senator,” he says of his relationship to the four young men.

Not only are the teens learning how to run a business which will indefinitely help them in the future, they are also improving their social skills and even learning new things from influential people like Hastings.

And that’s not all. Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun’s job training teaches other people about autism.  Tony Gloria of Rocco Vino’s Italian Restaurant, where the four work on the gumball machines, welcomes them to eat there on their lunch breaks, saying that they have a “personal understanding.”

In this day in time, we must remember the importance of instilling knowledge into our young people regardless of the challenges they face. All children and teens deserve an equal chance at a bright and successful future.

Taja Kenney, Eerie Community College

Ballet Changes Everything for Autistic Young Man

ballet autism

Imagine not being able to speak or communicate with your loved ones. What if you were only able to express yourself through actions and not words?

For the average person, just getting across basic ideas would be a huge challenge. But 20 year old Phillip Martin-Nelson, who was diagnosed with the most severe form of autism at a very young age, now stars in a premier ballet company. For the very first three years of his life he could not speak or tolerate the touch of another person, let alone sharing eye contact.

He now thanks dance and claims that it saved his life, stating that he would have never been able to live on his own or take care of himself without it. Growing up, his parents put him in sports and gymnastics and when he finally was able to speak, Martin-Nelson told them that he wanted to dance. He says that by learning to dance, his parents saw him focus and become excited about what he was doing for the first time.

With that being said, dance affected every aspect of his life to the point where he even spent his lunch time playing music and dancing.

Today he is a principal dancer at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male dance company. He cannot stress enough the big impact that dancing has had in his life.

“If I didn’t have ballet, if I never stepped into that first ballet class I probably would have never recovered, Martin Nelson said in an interview with MyFoxNY. “I would probably still be in special schools to this day and trying to just get by.”

The young man gives a big thanks to his therapists and other support systems for helping him to get where he is today.

Therapy plays a big role in the lives of children that have autism. Observing and noticing not only your child’s needs, but also their interests and passions can change their lives and take a whole new direction.

Baseball League Provides Recreational Outlet for the Autistic

include autism baseball

We’ve always heard that it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. For the members of the Include Autism baseball team, this proverb takes on a whole new meaning.

Around 20 young men between ages 5 and 22 get together one a month to play ball on the Lunging Lizards and Thunder Pandas teams purely for the joy of the sport.

The classic American pastime is adapted for the needs of those with autism spectrum disorder. The rules are modified to include just two innings, while some players get extra help from an adult while hitting the ball. No one seems too concerned about foul balls, stealing bases, or field positions.

The games are heavily attended by encouraging family and friends who show their support from the bleachers. 18 year old Chase is usually irritated by large crowds, but he feels comfortable on the baseball field located at Twin Trails Park in Rancho Peñasquitos, CA.

Even being comfortable in a large group is a big step for Chase, according to his mother. While running toward a base, Chase gets distracted by a stick. He proceeds to wander over to a tree and play with the twigs there. He may be done with the game for today, but that’s just fine with mom- it was a good day for her son if he enjoyed himself with the team.

The nonprofit Include Autism organizes the baseball games to provide athletic activities for children who do not fit in with traditional little league teams. Even those who are more high-functioning have difficulty following all the rules of a traditional game. Include Autism was founded in 2003 by Tina Waters in order to provide socialization opportunities for children and adults with ASD.

The baseball league is managed by Tina’s husband Mark. Each player is assigned a buddy to help him hit the balls, field them, and run bases. Members of Include Autism pair up with the most severely disabled players, while high school volunteers are assigned to the more high-functioning boys.

Games are capped at two innings because of the player’s tolerance for crowds and social activity. Some of the boys have sensory issues with wearing uniforms and helmets. Everyone is reminded to watch the ball since many are easily distracted.

“It’s really fun to help the kids like this who don’t get to play regular baseball,” says Tyler Cunningham, a 14 year high schooler who has been volunteering with Include Autism for five years. “Watching them hit the ball is my favorite part.”

Shining a Light on Autism in the Workspace

autism harsh lighting

One of the hallmark traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder is hypersensitivity, which is an abnormally intense sensitivity to a particular substance. This hypersensitivity can be found in relation to smells, textures, tastes, sounds, and lighting.

A major component of Autism Spectrum Disorder is abnormal differences in sensory integration. What would be a soft blanket to typically developing persons could feel like steel wool to an individual with ASD. As a result, persons with ASD have to learn to manipulate their interaction with the world to control these sensitivities and functionally work in common spaces.

Hypersensitivity to fluorescent lighting is a common problem with ASD in the home, school, and workplace. Fluorescent lights double the cycle of common light bulbs at 120Hz. Though this change is nearly imperceptible to most people, for persons with autism, this peripheral change becomes the focus of their direct observation, and so they perceive the light’s rapid changes in color, producing a flickering effect. Combine the terror this feeling invokes with the headache and nausea that fluorescent lighting usually causes in typically developing persons, and you get a very real idea of the toxic reality that this causes for persons with ASD.

In order to combat the nightmarish effects of fluorescent lighting, there are some tricks to alleviate individuals’ hypersensitive reactions without diminishing the quality of electronic resources:

·      Angle computers so they don’t reflect overhead lights

·      Turn off unnecessary lighting whenever possible

·      Replace fluorescent bulbs with normal ones or LED bulbs that limit the flickering effect

Taking the aforementioned steps is a simple solution that can immediate make the individual more comfortable. Creating a safe and comfortable space, whether it be at home or in the office, can make a world of difference for a person with ASD at almost no cost to their peers. It is therefore crucial that the problems of hypersensitivity be taught to laypeople in order to fully integrate highly functioning individuals with ASD who wish to live an independent life.

You can find the original article here.

Sara Power, Fordham University

Disco Classes Act as Therapy for Autistic Twins


We all need an outlet – something that lets us break free and be ourselves away from everyday stress.  It can be cooking, hiking, or just picking up a good book and relaxing on the sofa, and this is especially true for children with autism whom suffer daily with emotional stress and anxiety.  Sheila Hobley, a mother of three autistic children, knows exactly how important it is for her children to escape into another world of their own.

After giving birth to her first son, Alex, who is now 16, Sheila was devastated and confused when he was diagnosed with autism.  As a young, 26-year-old mother, it was challenging to deal with a disease she knew so little about and the behavioral side effects that accompanied it.  When Sheila and Alex’s father separated and she entered into a relationship with her current spouse, Andy, she was terrified to have another child in fear that any other children she may have would also have autism.

As doctors reassured her that her chances of having another autistic child were slim to none (about 1 in 1,000), Shelia and Andy felt confident and were ready to add to their family.  But even though the odds were in their favor, Sheila gave birth prematurely to two autistic twins, George and Jimmy.

At first the doctors denied they boys had any such condition and tried to persuade Sheila she was wrong.  But it didn’t take long for the classic signs of autism to begin showing up in the twins, and even caretakers of the boys noticed as well.  They would roll on the floor, rip each other’s hair out, and bite at just three months of age.

As the twins grew into toddlers, it got worse, causing a huge strain on the family.  Sheila and Andy were living in fear after finding knives and scissors that George had hid under his bed that he said were meant to harm Jimmy.  George would go from being violent one minute to expressing his love for his mother the next.  The constant tantrums, outbursts, and biting fits led Sheila to depend on antidepressants to cope with her emotional pain.  By then, she was desperate to find a way for the twins to channel their energy.

It was when she stumbled across a pamphlet for disco dance classes for kids that she decided to give it a try.  Although George was not impressed with the idea, Jimmy finally found something he loved to do.  Sheila admits that at first he wasn’t all too graceful, but he soon emerged to show his gift for the dance.  He went on to win the national Disco Kid Championships and even had a documentary filmed about him.

Sheila claims Disco didn’t just help socialize Jimmy; it even helped him improve his school skills as well.  She says she was the most worried about him, because his autism was the most severe.  But after moving to the beat of his own drum, Jimmy has shined through his inhibitions.

You can read the original article here

Mara Papaleo, Cleveland State University